Stepping off a cruise ship doesn’t always need to involve donning snorkeling equipment or spending hours on a tour bus. Depending on your ports of call, excursions might include swirling and sipping indigenous wines in a barrel-filled cellar, throwing back locally distilled spirits in a cozy bar or getting raucous at a beer hall. These are seven top experiences that let you drink in the local culture.
Included in both the Classic Cruise—Canal du Midi and the Wine Appreciation Cruise—Canal du Midi is this guided excursion in Marseillan Ville, a commune in the Hérault department in southern France. Herbalist Joseph Noilly developed the first formula for his aromatized wine in 1813, which was to become France’s first vermouth; in 1855, his son Louis and son-in-law Claudius Prat set up the company, and they have been making vermouth here ever since. The seaside climate and Mediterranean plants and herbs translate to an aromatic product whose recipe remains a closely guarded secret. Go on a fully guided tour of the facility and its hundred-year-old vats, watch a film about the history, undergo an extensive tasting of Noilly Prat expressions in the caves and then return to the ship for a vermouth aperitif and tasting of local Picpoul de Pinet white wines.
This four-hour tour in Puerto Vallarta was created by Bill Esparza, a James Beard Award-winning writer and expert on Latin American cuisine. It starts off with a spirits tasting and pairing at Barrio Bistro, a restaurant in the Versailles residential neighborhood helmed by chef-owner Guillermo “Memo” Wulff, who prepares Mexican dishes with ingredients harvested at his ranch or in the region. Wulff serves his own raicilla, Arre, an artisanal single-distilled spirit that can be made from several different varieties of agave; enjoy it straight, in infusions or in cocktails. You’ll also taste Tequila Doña Engracia, which is only available locally. A brief driving tour lets you take in the city’s vibrant architecture and beach views, while stops along the way allow you to sample other creative libations and regional bites.
Depart from the pier in Antibes on the French Riviera, which was founded by Greek merchants in the fifth century B.C. and is one of France’s oldest cities. Walk along Port Vauban, one of Europe’s largest harbors, and through the historic district, then stop at the Absinthe Bar. Tucked down a corner and in a vaulted stone cavern, the watering hole is an homage to the wormwood-based liqueur that was the preferred potable of 19th-century artists. Period posters, coasters, advertisements and other memorabilia flank the walls, along with headwear of all styles, shapes and sizes. As is the custom, don a hat and belly up to the absinthe fountain on the bar for a sampling of la fée verte, which louches (turns white) when water and ice are added. Nosh on tapenade and pissaladière, a Provençal specialty that sees flatbread topped with caramelized onions, black olives and anchovies.
A new excursion on Silversea’s newest ship, the Silver Moon, which launches in August 2020, is this full-day immersion for oenophiles and opera aficionados alike, part of the Barcelona to Athens (Piraeus) itinerary. Travel from the port of Livorno in Tuscany to Lajatico, the hometown of maestro Andrea Bocelli, where you’ll see Teatro del Silenzio Arena (Theater of Silence), where he holds a yearly concert. Next it’s off to Bocelli Estate and Vineyards, run by Andrea’s nephew Alessio, which has been making wine for nearly three centuries. Alessio explains the history of their sangiovese, red blends and pinot grigio and guides you through a tasting. After exploring the on-site museum, enjoy a four-course Tuscan lunch accompanied by Bocelli wines.
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Brand new for 2020 is this sailing down the Danube with ports of call in Austria and Germany. In Vienna, take a tour of the old town, then grab a table at a heurigen (Viennese wine tavern) for soup, schnitzel, apple strudel and maybe a crisp glass of grüner veltliner. See the terraced vineyards of Austria’s Wachau Valley before a full day of tasting local varietals. Do a wine tasting at Aggstein Castle, which dates back to the 12th century and was thought to be impenetrable and resistant to any assault. Here you can take a deep dive into all things riesling, with an interactive tour of the vineyards, a 4D film and sampling of some of the best wine produced in the Valley.
Part of the Romantic Danube river cruise that visits Hungary, Austria and Germany, this fun-filled afternoon in Germany’s Passau is an Oktoberfest-style celebration in a rural setting. Take a short bus ride to Gut Aichet, a riverside farm nestled in the hills of the Lower Bavarian countryside that’s been run by the same lineage since 1472. The Anetseders are affable hosts, showing off their stables that house 50 horses, a dressage stadium, a hunting lodge, a courtyard and a barn. Weather-depending, the main event will take place outside or in a cozy firelit cabin. Witness the ritual of tapping the wooden barrel and serve yourself unlimited pours of local beers along with cheese spreads, bread, locally cured ham, pretzels and mustards. Learn to master the folk dance known as Schuhplattler before bidding auf wiedersehen.
Travel inland from the port of Getxo, Bilbao, to the heart of Spain’s Rioja wine region on this full-day excursion. Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España is a family-run winery founded in 1879. It’s located on its original site in the Barrio de la Estación en Haro in Rioja Alta, a subregion known for its elegant, restrained wines with moderate alcohol content. After strolling through their vineyards and touring the cellar, taste through their portfolio and learn how Rioja Alta wines differ from those in the area’s other two subregions: Rioja Baya and Rioja Alavesa. Afterward, move on to Bohedal Bodega, another charming family-run winery, where a table is set with local tomatoes, olive oil and sausages before you’re served lunch of local produce, pork sirloin with Riojan-style potatoes, homemade dessert and lots of wine, naturally. And since each group is kept small, you won’t need to elbow anyone for another pour.